Addiction Coping and Recovery Methods and Support How Long Do Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms Last? Adjusting Can Take Days or Weeks By Corinne O’Keefe Osborn Corinne O’Keefe Osborn LinkedIn Corinne Osborn is an award-winning health and wellness journalist with a background in substance abuse, sexual health, and psychology. Learn about our editorial process Updated on June 07, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS Medically reviewed by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Nusha Ashjaee Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms Effects of Sugar Keto Diet Sugar Withdrawal How to Cope Treatment Resources Eating too much sugar can lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. So in the long term, reducing sugar in your diet may encourage weight loss, improve dental health, and reduce your risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In the short term, giving up sugar often results in temporary sugar withdrawal symptoms. Common symptoms of sugar withdrawal include cravings and fatigue, but in some cases, people experience irritability, depressed mood, and other unwanted symptoms. For people on very low-sugar diets, such as the ketogenic diet, sugar withdrawal can feel so severe and unpleasant that it is referred to as the "keto flu." If you are trying to cut back on sugar in your diet, it can be helpful to understand what kinds of symptoms you might experience and how long they will last. Let's explore some of these symptoms, the sugar withdrawal timeline, why giving up sugar is so hard, and what you can do to feel better until sugar withdrawal symptoms fade. Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms Reducing sugar in your diet can result in a number of symptoms, both physical and mental. The nature and severity of these symptoms vary from one person to the next. They may last for a few days or a few weeks. If you cut added sugars from your diet, you may experience: Anxiety Changes in sleep patterns Depressed mood Difficulty concentrating Dizziness or lightheadedness Fatigue Intense cravings for something sweet Intense cravings for other carbohydrates, like chips or pasta Irritability Nausea These symptoms can be unpleasant, and cravings can sometimes lead to binge-eating behaviors. After a period of sugar withdrawal, some people give in to a craving and end up consuming more sugar than they normally would. Binge-eating is part of a vicious cycle of sugar dependence and withdrawal. After a binge, people often feel guilty, depressed, and angry. To make themselves feel better, they eat more sugar to get endorphins flowing again. Endorphins make you feel better while you are eating, but they don’t stick around for long. Recap Symptoms of sugar withdrawal can be unpleasant and difficult to cope with. While the sugar withdrawal timeline varies, these symptoms gradually fade with time and often disappear within a few days or weeks. Effects of Sugar In order to understand why sugar withdrawal symptoms can be so bothersome and intense, it can be helpful to understand why they happen and how sugar affects the body. Evolutionary Basis of Sugar Withdrawal Believe it or not, there is an evolutionary basis for your ice cream cravings. Our early ancestors were biologically driven to seek out high-calorie foods, such as fruit and honey. Consuming sugars helped them build up body fat, which was essential for surviving periods of scarcity. The brain rewarded this survival instinct by releasing feel-good neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the brain’s chemical messengers. There are billions of these molecules at work all the time, sending messages throughout your nervous system that allow you to think, move, and breathe. They also affect mood. How Sugar Affects the Brain Addictive drugs like heroin and cocaine produce a high because they either masquerade as neurotransmitters or prompt the nervous system to release a flood of them. These kinds of changes in brain chemistry lead to dependence, withdrawal, and addiction. Sugar triggers a release of endorphins, the natural opioids that are widely recognized for reducing pain after you’re injured and boosting happiness after you exercise. Sugar also triggers a release of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter linked to cravings. In animal studies, researchers have found that sugar withdrawal mirrors withdrawal from other drugs, like cocaine and heroin. But animals seem to be more prone to "sugar addiction" than we are. In one study, when given a choice between cocaine and sugar, cocaine-addicted rats primarily chose the sugar. Sugar is a tricky thing. There are sugars in many of the healthy foods you eat, including fruit, bread, and dairy products. When we talk about sugars from a health perspective, what we are usually talking about are the refined sugar added into things like bread, candy, and soda. This includes table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and white flour. Whether or not you can actually become addicted to, or physically dependent upon, sugar depends largely on your definition of addiction. But it does appear that many people experience withdrawal-like symptoms when they give it up. Recap Sugar causes a release of endorphins in the brain. These are your body’s natural opioids. It’s possible that your body craves these extra opioids when they’re gone, causing withdrawal. Sugar also causes a release of dopamine, which plays a major role in habit formation. How Addictive Is Sugar Really? Keto Diet Sugar Withdrawal If you have eliminated all sources of sugar from your diet, including the sugars that naturally occur in fruit and dairy products, then you may be experiencing the keto flu. People on a ketogenic diet consume less than 10% of their calories from carbohydrates per day—which may be less than 20 grams of carbs. Without access to sugar or other carbohydrates, the body has no source of glucose. Glucose is like fuel for our cells, and without it, we begin to starve. The body is forced to turn to its fat stores for an alternative fuel source, which causes a condition called ketosis. Ketosis can be unpleasant. If you are on a ketogenic diet, your symptoms may be more severe than those caused by cutting down on added sugars. This drastic drop in carbs causes the body to enter a state of ketosis, which works differently for everyone. You may enter ketosis after cutting your carbohydrates to 50 grams per day, whereas someone else may need to cut them to 10 grams or under. It can take your body a few days to enter a state of ketosis. Common Ketosis Symptoms Once ketosis begins, you may notice symptoms such as:NauseaFatigueHeadacheMuscle crampsBad breathWeaknessConstipation or diarrheaBasically, ketosis feels like a mild flu. These symptoms typically go away on their own after about a week. It just takes time for your body to adjust to its new reality. It is important to talk to a healthcare provider before beginning a low-carb or ketogenic diet. These diets can be dangerous for certain people. Because these types of sugar-free diets are so restrictive, they can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Vitamins and minerals are essential for growing bodies. For this reason, children and teenagers should not do low-carb diets. Neither should people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. The long-term health implications of low-carb diets have not been fully explored. Some doctors fear that restricting carbs could contribute to bone loss and several chronic diseases. To reduce the risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends eating a balanced diet, rich in lean proteins, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. Relief for the Keto Flu If your goal is to transition to a ketogenic diet, then you will have to give your body time to adjust. The ketogenic diet may have health benefits, especially for some people with epilepsy and other neurological disorders. If you are starting a ketogenic diet for health reasons, you may have to suffer the uncomfortable symptoms for a little while. Think of it like an actual flu—you just have to bear it. If your symptoms don’t improve after three weeks, talk to your doctor. If you are following a low-carb or keto diet for weight loss, consider altering your approach. A low-carb diet has many of the same health benefits as a keto diet, including weight loss. The only difference is that your body will not enter a state of ketosis. Ketosis can lead to rapid weight loss, but it is usually temporary. Always consult with your healthcare provider before transitioning to a ketogenic diet. To transition to a low-carb diet and put an end to the keto flu, all you have to do is eat some fruit. When the body has access to glucose (from sugary foods), it no longer needs to burn fat for fuel. Coping With Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms If you are trying to reduce your sugar intake or cut sugar out of your diet, there are some steps you can take to help cope with sugar withdrawal symptoms. Set Specific, Practical Goals While there may be reasons to switch to a very low-sugar diet, it is often more realistic and achievable to look for practical ways to gradually reduce your sugar intake. For example, you might swap out sugary snacks for foods that are higher in proteins, fats, and whole grains. Or you might stop drinking high-sugar soda and other sugary beverages and replace them with water or other low-sugar drinks. Increase Daily Fiber Dietary fiber can help you feel fuller longer and reduce feelings of hunger. Foods that are high in fiber can also help regulate blood sugar levels, which means you'll be less likely to experience fluctuations in blood sugar that contribute to cravings. Eat Balanced Meals Focus on eating meals and snacks that include a good balance of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Ensuring that you are getting a good balance can help promote feelings of fullness, help regulate blood sugar levels, and minimize cravings. Get Enough Sleep Sleep is essential for health and well-being, and research has shown that lack of sleep may contribute to cravings for certain foods, including those that are high in added sugars. Engage in Physical Activity Getting regular exercise can also be helpful when you are cutting back on sugar. Research has found that even short bursts of brisk exercise can help reduce sugar cravings. Treatment for Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms Sugar withdrawal doesn’t really require long-term treatment, because it will pass relatively quickly. The main problem is sustaining a low-sugar diet. These restrictive diets are too much for most people, so don’t feel guilty if this eating pattern doesn't work for you. The key to changing your eating pattern is to find something you can live with long-term. If going sugar-free for three weeks is going to make you binge next month, try a less drastic plan. A diet rich in lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will help you sustain a healthy weight while giving your body the nutrients it needs to thrive. Try to avoid processed foods, as they tend to be packed with added sugars. Instead, get your sweet fix from something that contains fiber, like berries, oranges, or apples. Resources For tips on planning nutritious meals for the whole family, visit MyPlate.gov. You can also check out the American Heart Association’s collection of recipes, which are specifically designed to help you change your eating habits for heart health. If you are worried that you may be struggling with food or a binge eating disorder, consider peer-to-peer support groups in your area, such as Food Addicts Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous. A Word From Verywell Reducing your sugar intake is an admirable goal. Just remember that the best diets are not really diets at all, but changes in eating behaviors. Old habits are hard to break, especially when you try to quit cold-turkey. Instead, start with small changes. Try to feel proud of the small steps you’re taking rather than guilty about the changes yet to be made. Each small step will build upon the last, taking you into a healthier tomorrow. 8 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Wiss DA, Avena N, Rada P. Sugar addiction: From evolution to revolution. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9:545. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00545 Wideman CH, Nadzam GR, Murphy HM. Implications of an animal model of sugar addiction, withdrawal and relapse for human health. Nutr Neurosci. 2005;8(5-6):269-276. doi:10.1080/10284150500485221 DiNicolantonio JJ, et al. Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review. Br J Sports Med. 2017;52(14), 910–913. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-097971 Shilpa J, Mohan V. Ketogenic diets: Boon or bane?. Indian J Med Res. 2018;148(3):251–253. doi:10.4103/ijmr.IJMR_1666_18 American Heart Association. American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. D'Andrea Meira I, Romão TT, Pires do Prado HJ, Krüger LT, Pires MEP, da Conceição PO. Ketogenic diet and epilepsy: What we know so far. Front Neurosci. 2019;13:5. doi:10.3389/fnins.2019.00005 Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nat Commun. 2013;4:2259. doi:10.1038/ncomms3259 Ledochowski L, Ruedl G, Taylor AH, Kopp M. Acute effects of brisk walking on sugary snack cravings in overweight people, affect and responses to a manipulated stress situation and to a sugary snack cue: a crossover study. Johannsen NM, ed. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(3):e0119278. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0119278 Additional Reading Benton D. The plausibility of sugar addiction and its role in obesity and eating disorders. Clin Nutr. 2010;29(3), 288–303. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2009.12.001. By Corinne O’Keefe Osborn Corinne Osborn is an award-winning health and wellness journalist with a background in substance abuse, sexual health, and psychology. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.